It’s time to feed on the weed

OUR grandmother’s liking for carrageen moss was looked upon as a sort of an oddity, says Donal Hickey.

But, were she around today, she would probably be wagging her finger in an ‘’I told ye so’’ mode as seaweed, dubbed sea vegetables, is becoming ever more popular as a healthy food and as a source of protein and vitamins.

Seaweeds are also reputed to benefit gut health, have anti-cancer properties and, yes, may even help weight management.

Brown seaweeds blanket our shoreline and kelp thrives in underwater currents. There are vivid accounts of seaweed harvesting in Blasket Island literature, for instance, and there’s also a tradition in the Aran Islands. Seaweed continues to be used as a land fertiliser and, more widely, in a pharmaceutical and cosmetic products.

For thousands of years, seaweed has been eaten in Japan and China. Ireland is now getting in on the act and we’re now told by Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM) that seaweed farming offers the country an opportunity to become a producer of one of the EU’s fastest growing food categories. By 2020, it could boost Irish seafood sales by an additional €10 million per year, a recent BIM-hosted conference heard.

A BIM-commissioned study shows Ireland targeting 2,000 metric tonnes per year of seaweed farmed for human consumption. Here, we are competing to develop a niche in the $6bn worldwide farmed seaweed industry in which the heavyweights are China and Japan.

With demand for European farmed seaweed increasing by up to 10% per annum, it could lead to 100 new jobs being created along our west and south-west coastline, while downstream processing of the new seaweed crops would also lead to a further 80 to 100 jobs in the region.

Ireland is already established as an important seaweed producer and can raise production levels of sea vegetables. The European market is also undersupplied, with imports accounting for about 75% of total sales in 2013.

The BIM study report also says Ireland should continue to farm the brown seaweed; species of the type are grown at sites in West Cork’s Roaring Water Bay and Dingle Bay and should also target higher value red seaweed, which is used in sushi, a la Japan, which seems to be getting more popular here.

All of which bring us to Ballybunion, Co Kerry, which will hold it’s a first Wild Seaweed Festival over the June bank holiday. A number of companies are already working with seaweed in Ballybunion. Nutrition expert Prannie Rhatigan will guide people out looking for seaweed, while chef Clodagh McKenna will be returning to Ballybunion to give seafood cookery demonstrations.

But, will seaweed ever be a middle-of-the-day staple?

Read more in our dedicated Outdoors section


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